September 21, 2007

Saddam Hussein at the Waldbühne

. . . or: Yes, looks DO matter!

I had an eerie experience yesterday night. I was looking for performances of my all-time favourite singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at YouTube, specifically for Au fond du temple saint from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, the aria for tenor and baritone to end all arias for tenor and baritone, which he superbly performed together with Carlo Bergonzi at an age when both guys would never see sixty again. Well, it wasn't there. But I became intrigued nevertheless.

Same concert, different aria.

First, there popped up that performance by Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel, which would have been rejected by any self-respecting vaudeville show (and yes, looks DO matter!) and then I stumbled over Placido Domingo and Rolando Villazón (Rolando WHO???) and wished I hadn't.

In open-necked shirt and with straggly gray beard, Domingo performed a fair impersonation shtick of Saddam Hussein, whereas Rolando WHO sported a hairdo, that gave an entirely new depth to the epithet "greaseball" (did I mention that looks DO matter?) and the only good thing about it was that, as one of the commentators at YouTube put it, that Domingo finally sang with the baritone voice God gave him. At the Berlin Waldbühne that was, in July 2006. And better forgotten.

But then I was rewarded for my pains. There they were. At the very bottom of the page. In a recording from 1970. Alfredo Kraus, not even arguably the most underrated tenor in the history of singing and Barry McDaniel, an American baritone who never got the international acclaim he deserved, mainly because he chose to work almost exclusively in Germany. Two guys, exceedingly handsome, immaculately groomed in white ties, no popular gimmicks, no tricks. Just pure art. Boring, eh?

And here was I, thinking that nobody could ever beat Fischer-Dieskau and Bergonzi, but Alfredo Kraus is so awesome that, although his partner McDaniel can, as a baritone, not quite touch Fischer-Dieskau and although Fischer-Dieskau's partner Bergonzi is one of the all time great tenors as well, Kraus outshines all that. This performance wins by a clear head. What effortlessness, what style, what poise!

Actually, Alfredo Kraus reminds me of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in his expression, introspectiveness, total devotion to his art and in his elegant, aristocratic bearing as well (which came, due to the ethnic difference, probably easier to him than to the latter).

Comparisons, specifically between singers of different repertoires, are difficult, maybe even unfair. Other tenors certainly had a more dramatic voice. But compared to Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli was just a hunk with a clarion-voice, Domingo a mis-casted baritone, and Pavarotti... well, at least Maestro Alfredo has an understudy in heaven now.


huhas1 said...

"But if anyone can be said to steal the show it's Villazon, a singer in perpetual motion, who brings the house down with a version of Rossini's La Danza full of dash and brio."
He is not WHO???
He is internationally known fantastic artist and singer with rare musicianship and rarest stage presence.

The_Editrix said...

If "bringing down the house" were an indicator for ANYTHING, the world would be a better place.

AbuVictor said...

You may like Rolando (as I do), or you may not (which is, apparently, the case with you), but he is definitely not Rollando WHO??? If he is name for you, apparently you are not following what happens in opera lately too closely. I wouldn't get into a [quite subjective] discussion about how good he really is, but he for certain has earned at least a honorable mention in the XXI century opera history. (I hope very much that he has not has said his last word yet and that he will recover from his current difficulties whatever they are.)

The_Editrix said...

For heaven's sake, I am usually blogging about major going-ons at the political theater and if I for once digress and confess that I don't particularly like A FUCKING CROONER several people who have never commented here before get their knickers in a knot.

Obviously, the "WHO???" was an expression of dislike and has nothing to do with how well known the guy is. X billion flies can't be wrong: eat more shit! So what a criterion for quality is popularity?

His performance at the Waldbühne was abysmal, so was Domingo's. He looked like a greasy little pimp in that outfit, Domingo looked like a downtrodden bum who had slept rough for at least a month in his. All that is a symptom for the sad yobbofication of classical music. But if singers of that status decide to perform as sidekicks of something like a Soccer World Cup, what can we expect?

Did you actually WATCH the video? Did you watch the other videos I mentioned? Or did you just leap into automatic defense mode because some obscure blogger in Germany said something disparaging about your idol? I have always found the over-symbiotic (to put it politely) relationship between opera singers and their admirers (to put that politely as well) odd (that, too, is a polite definition). I am thrilled to see that I am right.

Am I wrong in my assessment of those particular videos? Yes or no?

AbuVictor said...

Let's start from the end: yes, these videos are bad. Every singer entitled is to a bad day. This is especially true about Mr. Villazon, whose vocal problems are a common knowledge now. Look for his other videos on tube, e.g. for this one:

Let's not digress into discussion of what a consensus really means (or doesn't) when talking of art, it will take us too far (the thing with "billion flies" sounds a bit er... overused? to me). Mr. Villazon is not my idol, neither is Mr. Domingo (I'm quite over the age when people have ones). Mr. Domingo is not Mr. Villazon's sidekick, he is his teacher. I don't know who you can safely compare to the great Kraus -- not only a great tenor, but a great musician as well -- which is still more rare, but Mr.Domingo, and Mr. Villazon are definitely not falling under the category of "FUCKING CROONERS": just listen carefully, please (well, for other clips). Calling Franco Corelly "just a hunk with a clarion-voice" ... come on, really.

BTW, about Mr. Domingo's baritone: look on the same youtube for a piece where he sings Figaro/Almaviva duet with himself. Ah, here it is: s

You are calling yourself "some obscure blogger in Germany". I came to your blog by googling "Villazon", and I'm going to visit frequently, since I can't agree more with what you are writing about "major going-ons at the political theater" ... and you also say it well. But your opera verdicts ... I'm going to skip them.

The_Editrix said...

Fair enough, Abu. You have discovered the one and only method to disarm me instantaneous- and totally. Can we agree that I, on one hand, am a belligerent cranklepuss with an only cursory interest in classical music and apart from a somewhat natural sense for quality not the slightest idea about it and that you, on the other hand, didn't twig that I did my best to try to be a nuisance? Rest assured that I won't post about it again in a hurry and thank you for your kind words about my blog.

By the way, I didn't say that Domingo was Villazon's sidekick, of course he isn't. I said that both acted as sidekicks of the Soccer World Cup (of which I disapproved). ;-)

Great video of Domingo, great singer, wonderful man. If I wouldn't think so, I hadn't been so (genuinely) irritated with his Waldbühne performance.

The_Editrix said...

On a different note: I unearthed by mere chance the recording of the Bergonzi and DFD version. It was made 1982, so the guys were NOT well over sixty, but in their late fifties. And I have changed my mind about Barry McDaniel. He IS as good as DFD, at least in this YouTube recording. He was, of course, 17 years younger here than DFD was when the recording I have was made, give or take a year. (I think I'll get some of his Schubert oeuvre.)

Apart from the copyright infringement, I don't think it's technically possible to upload DVD files (.cda) to the Internet. A pity really.

Stephen Renico said...


On a side note, the pictures of you at the top left corner of this webpage were much better viewing.

The_Editrix said...

Don't you worry! I'll soon schange it. ;-)

AbuVictor said...


ok, that's a deal! Unfortunately I'm not in a full command of English, so I don't know exactly what "cranklepuss" means (neither available online sources do), but by sound of it I think that yes, you are one :). On the other hand, your best shot to be a nuisance was somewhat excessive: something tells me that you can be "a nuisance" without trying so hard, can't you?

I'm a great admirer of King Fischer but I doubt that Italian/French repertoire is his strong suite. There are no equals to him in Lied (well, maybe except Hotter and now Quasthoff), but Les Pêcheurs de Perles ...

As to singing adopted to Soccer funs tastes: first, "de mortibus ..." and so on, but it was Great Luciano who started it back in 1990, and second -- it's better when tenors are singing for soccer fans than famous soccer players playing for opera lovers ... say, at the Glindenbourne opening, isn't it?

The_Editrix said...

You are right. Being a nuisance (roughly the equivalent of cranklepuss) comes naturally and easily to me.

Funny enough, the Lieder apart, I liked Fischer-Dieskau best in Verdi parts. Here is what the eminent critic Jürgen Kesting says about him:

When, on November 18, 1948 at the age of 24 in Berlin, under Fereoc Fricsay, he sang the Marquis Posa in “Don Carlos”, the conductor found it hard to believe “he had come across an Italian baritone in Berlin”.

In the followinog time, many Italian critics praised Fischer-Dieskau’s ability of acquiring "italianità" which is so difficult for Non-Italians; certainly, this brought him the invitation of Milano in 1956 to sing Wilhelm Tell (with Anita Cerquetti) under Mario Rossi, and then, in 1964, the DG-recording of the complete
Rigoletto with Carlo Bergonzi and Renato Scotto under Rafael Kubelik, at La Scala.

Under Fricsay, Fischer-Dieskau got to know the Verdi repertoire thoroughty — after all, it was both in complete recordings and in medleys that he sang the parts of Falstaff (under Bernstein), Renato in “Un ballo in maschera” (under Busch). Don Cartos in “La forza del destino”, Germont in “La Traviata”, Jago in “Otello” (under Barbirolli) and Macbeth (under Gardelli). He once said that he loves Verdi from A to Z and that the remark of a critic, saying he sings Verdi like a Lied by Schubert, was no offence at all, since a Verdi aria doesn’t consist only in “furore and a melody cantabile”. (cf. Kenneth S. Whitton, Dietrieh Fischer- Dieskau/Mastersingcr. Wolff. London, 1981, p. 120). Fischer-Dieskau says that people often forget how Verdi imagined his personages, how often he gave precise indications with p and pp. Fischer-Dieskau wants to call people’s attention to the Schubert proximity of Verdi’s music from time to time.

In his interpretations of parts such as Rigoletto, Iago, and Falstaff, he worked out these dynamic differentiations and he “coloured” words and entire phrases with Lied-like expressiveness, as his British biographer Kenneth S. Whitton comments.

(Translation: Marie Claire Kärtner)

With that, I agree.

For a reason I can not pinpoint I was never too keen on DFD in Mozart parts.

Incidentally, from what little I have seen/heard of Alfredo Krause in the meantime I liked him least as Tamino. Mozart is in a league of his own.

I think I will get a recording of Schubert sung by Barry McDaniel now. Here is a remarkable interview with him, which made me ashamed of my somewhat arrogant perception that only a German is fit to sing Lieder. I always shunned him because he is American, which is stupid and, as I said, arrogant.

By the way, the only indication in your first comment here that you are not a native English speaker and specifically American, was the fact that you did NOT jump at me because of the VERY unkind epithet "greaseball". ;-)

Keep coming back. It was nice to meet you.

The_Editrix said...

Oh I forgot: It doesn't need to be at Glyndebourne, but some opera aficionados ought to watch more soccer or some such to lighten up.

On the other hand, if singing for soccer fans leads to such a decline in singing performance as we could watch at the Waldbühne, I'd rather not have it.